There’s this common line you’ll hear around NHL front offices that describes Thanksgiving weekend as the true temperature check to measure a team’s worth. Typically, teams that are in the postseason hunt around Thanksgiving manage to stick around come April. It’s not always accurate, but hey, what is?
So, where are the Bruins?
Down four defensemen — including their top shutdown option — and their number one center, the Bruins are, well, surviving and yet, still picking up points — and in the hunt.
Friday night’s hard-fought 2-1 overtime win against a suddenly struggling Pittsburgh Penguins team is great evidence of the team’s ability to stick around in games and work twice as hard to stay afloat.
Here’s a look at what else we learned in the Bruins’ annual Black Friday matchup.
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson: first line center?
If Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson projected to be a Patrice Bergeron-like player, then Friday night was his first audition for the role. His sixth game of the season was his first playing top-line minutes and playing in Bergeron’s normal spot, centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. And what better way to start than by winning the game’s opening face-off against Sidney Crosby?
“It was a pretty cool moment, looking back on it,” Forsbacka Karlsson said.
Cool moments aside, JFK’s first face-off win didn’t exactly set off a trend. He finished the game 5-for-20 on the dot but was still able to hold his own playing top line minutes and having top-line responsibilities. He finished the game with a season-high 18:22 of ice time.
“Two games ago I was concerned if he could handle a third-line role,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said about JFK. “I just saw some growth in Detroit and thought well, let’s see if he can take another step against Crosby.”
Another sign Cassidy’s trust in JFK came in overtime, starting him in the 3-on-3 with Marchand and John Moore against, Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Kris Letang.
With a game in Montreal against the Canadiens on tap for Saturday night, look for Cassidy to stick with this newly formed line, if only because the line underneath is starting to catch fire, too.
It seems like we’ve been waiting awhile for a David Krejci line to click. After a few tries, it looks like Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk are finally starting to cement their roles as Krejci’s linemates.
They certainly have a fan in Cassidy.
“They were terrific,” Cassidy said. “They were by far our best line, generated the most offense, scored our only goal, good for them.”
The Krejci line stood out both on and off the scoresheet, especially during a key shift early in the second period. After Krejci threw his body in front of a shot, the trio was able to sustain pressure in the offensive zone, creating chances while moving the puck to get the defense more actively involved in the point. It’s a good look for Krejci who, like Forsbacka Karlsson, will need to step up in Bergeron’s absence.
“We’ve got some young kids in behind him that are going to have to find their way, so he’s going to have to carry a bit more water than maybe he normally would,” Cassidy said. “I thought he was really skating and attacking tonight. You know, their line certainly could’ve had more than one goal, so good for him.”
The one goal came from DeBrusk who got on the board almost 14 minutes into the second period with a rocket from the point. After a slow start to the season, DeBrusk has certainly found his rhythm with six goals and two assists in his last nine games.
The lineup shuffle continues
Cassidy has spent the better part of the 2018-19 season tweaking every line but the top, trying to find a spark of chemistry that could boost production amidst a rash of injuries that has plundered the roster.
On Friday, Colby Cave made his season debut for the Bruins on the third line alongside wingers Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari. Cave was the 27th Bruin to dress in the lineup this season.
Rookie defenseman Connor Clifton continues to earn his minutes, playing on the blue line in favor of Steven Kampfer for his fourth straight game.
The young players needing to step up because of injuries are hearing a consistent message from Cassidy.
“They’ve got to skate,” he said. “You’ve got to use your feet.”
“And then, it’s ‘win your puck battles,’ which you’re not going to every time, but if you’re skating and moving, the battles find you because they’re smart players, they’ll be at the puck, so they compete on the puck, at the puck, around the puck.”
The shifting is likely far from over. The first and second lines look to be stable for the time being but what of the bottom six? And what about that defense?
Cassidy mentioned that Brandon Carlo is possible to play as early as Monday but Charlie McAvoy and Urho Vaakanainen won’t travel with the team. But for now, the Bruins are compiling points where they can.
As for Saturday’s lineup? That’s a great question.
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